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Exhibition Insights From A Retail Legend

Exhibition can be a somewhat insular industry, looking to one another for inspiration and new ideas, but it also means that as an industry, we don’t always take the chance to observe the same thought leadership from beyond cinema.

Reworking lessons from other industries to match exhibition can produce some amazing insights.

On a recent episode of Behind the Screens—Movio & Numero’s industry podcast exploring the people behind the box office—we spoke with Wendy Liebmann of WSL Strategic Retail about her great experience with the retail industry, to see what exhibition can learn from other consumer industries.

How does retail go beyond with data?

We talk a lot about data at Movio, from the importance of first-party data to how we can better use both traditional demographic data and behavioural data to elevate our marketing.
As Matthew quoted on the podcast, Wendy’s professional philosophy is, “To see the future of retail follow the shopper.” For the best retailers, she explained, the key element is to go beyond transactional data.

The best-in-class retailers today are doing deeper dives, building panels and communities in order to stay constantly in touch with their customers’ sentiments, attitudes, and behaviours. They build segments of shoppers to understand life stages, cultural preferences, and to stay intimately close while they purchase.

They have also moved past seeing their loyalty programs as price incentives. They analyse their data and build segmentation, categories, and tiers of different levels of value that are closer tailored to their customers.

“That level of sophistication is what’s required to reach that top level of what the best retailers are doing today.”

Three new pillars of consumer life

It’s easy to forget that cinemas are a form of retail outlet; one for movies. Many are in malls, on high streets next to restaurants, clothing stores, and more. While exhibition provides a strong experience along with that, there are macro insights in retail that are highly relevant to exhibition.

New notions are emerging as we move through the pandemic, and Wendy highlighted three new pillars for the shopper, which come together to create an Easier, meaningful, well life.”

These pillars of shoppers’ desires raise important questions for exhibitors to ask themselves.

How can we help somebody have an easier life? Whether that is ease of buying tickets, ease of parking or reaching a cinema, session timing… understanding the reasons why customers are coming helps too; are they going to the movies for a date? To get away from the kids? To immerse themselves in a moment? All of that affects how they shop—in retail and cinema.

Being meaningful is all about relevance; making sure that you offer something that’s differentiated, not commodified. Ask yourself why a moviegoer would choose your cinema over another, especially when the same films are often available at multiple locations. How do you add meaning and reason to your cinema to make moviegoers choose your experience over others?

Finally, wellness is the notion of living a balanced and less stressful life. This category is broad, from health elements of cleanliness and sustainability, to emotional resonance. Creating an inspirational sense of place, and fostering that with individuals and community is something that stands out and defines the best retailers and exhibitors.

Drawing inspiration from the best

“You could smell the fashion. It oozed from every element of the store; the design, the displays, the people and their experience. It made you want to move right in and try on every frock in the place.

That’s the difference for good retail today.”

Wendy cited many retailers, from the sense of discovery at a mass merchant like Target to the atmosphere of Starbucks to digitally engaging spaces from brands like Nike, that exemplify the best of retail. What stood out among them all was the ‘sense of place’.

Part of what entices moviegoers to leave their couch behind and come to the cinema is the often-used difference of screen and sound. No home cinema matches the experience of an IMAX auditorium. But leaning on that difference alone may be a problem.

“The biggest mistake a retailer can make is apples-to-apples comparisons.” When we compare apples-to-apples (or screens-to-screens), we’re not thinking about the whole consumer. This misses a lot of opportunity to realise other ways money may be trickling away in the gaps.

For example, Wendy described the wait at a Starbucks and a CVS. A great coffee shop can have a line out the door and offer a lovely immersive environment with music and smells, making for a short and enjoyable wait. But filling out a prescription at a CVS with no line or other customers can still be a twenty minute wait. While CVS isn’t competing in product with Starbucks, they could learn by thinking about the ‘apples-to-oranges’ comparisons shoppers will make, namely why did one wait take three minutes, and the other take twenty?

‘A tremendous sense of place'

While cinemas can create incredible environments that combine their physical and digital spaces, they remain a brick-and-mortar pillar. The best physical retailers are the ones who create a great sense of place.

This is why boutique cinema experiences, offers like gold class or IMAX, and themed cinemas succeed: they create a specific sense of place that adds value and atmosphere for the moviegoer. It’s a cornerstone of the independent cinema market, and it’s something retail is extremely practiced in as well.

Innovating on space doesn’t have to be all dramatic chandeliers or art nouveau redesigns of layout, but it’s about identifying the space you want to create, how to make it welcoming, and getting the details right.

In the end, one of the biggest lessons of retail is a simple one for cinemas; customers need a reason to get off the couch and go to your cinema. Ask yourself what the emotional touchstones of your cinema are. What will make a moviegoer say, “Wow. I can’t wait to come here again.”

But that’s just a taste. Matthew and Wendy discuss many more examples and lessons from the world of retail that can provide incredible inspiration for the exhibition industry, so it’s well worth listening to their full interview on Behind The Screens.

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